The Book Shelf: June 2017

Each month, I spotlight two books guaranteed to delight readers and provide fun activities to further extend the meaning of each reading experience. With so many wonderful titles available, this is no easy task! I bring a 33-year teaching career, literacy expertise and a passion for creating joyful readers to every column I write. I certainly hope you enjoy this month’s picks as much as I do.

Immigration Facts:*

  • In 2015, the four most common birthplaces for first-generation children were Mexico (twenty-seven percent), India (six percent), China (five percent), and the Philippines (five percent).
  • In 2015, approximately 21 percent of people ages five and older in the U.S. population reported speaking a language other than English at home. Spanish was by far the most common language (62 percent).
  • In 2016, immigrants and their U.S.-born children numbered approximately 84.3 million people or 27 percent of the overall U.S. population.

*Information obtained from the U.S. Census Bureau

Mango, Abuela, and Me

This 2016 Pura Belpré Award duo presents an endearing story of the longing and difficulties many multigenerational, immigrant families face as they seek to bridge linguistic and cultural divides. Young Mia speaks English and her grandmother, who leaves “her sunny house with parrots and palm trees” to live with Mia’s family in America, speaks Spanish. Mia seeks creative ways to teach Abuela English, and in return, Mia learns Spanish, but it is not sufficient for all of the stories they wish to share. Mia comes up with a “perfecto” idea to get a feathered friend, Mango, to ease Abuela’s homesickness and also to provide a topic for grand conversations! With each new word, their bond deepens. “Now, when Abuela and I are lying next to each other in bed, our mouths are full of things to say.” This heart-warming tale of patience and determination beautifully weaves together two generations, two languages, and two cultures.

“Everyone smiles in the same language.” ~ George Carlin

A Piece of Home

The 2017 recipient of the Ezra Jack Keats Award is a tender tale about the challenges a young Korean boy, Hee Jun, and his family face as they adapt to life in America. Told with sensitivity and compassion, Watts shares the emotional impact of leaving behind all that is familiar and the struggle to make new friends, learn a new language, and find his way. In Korea, Hee Jun “was ordinary.” But in West Virginia, he looks different from his classmates and when he tries to speak English, “the words feel like stones in his mouth.” He gradually settles into his new life—one new word and one new friend at a time. When a classmate invites him over after school, Hee Jun recognizes a flower in the yard from Korea—mugunghwa (Rose of Sharon). He asks to take a shoot to his grandmother so she can plant a “piece of home” in their new garden. This realistic portrayal of the highs and lows of beginning anew in an unfamiliar world is a must-read!

“Language is the road map of a culture.” ~ Rita Mae Brown

Extension Activities:


The mugunghwa flower in A Piece of Home provides both familiarity and beauty in the lives of Hee Jun and his grandmother. With supervision and permission, take pictures of flowers in your yard, neighborhood, or a nearby park with a smartphone or camera. Use watercolors, crayons, markers, colored pencils, etc. and paint/draw your favorite photographed flower. If you have access to technology (and a little assistance), use a free app like Pic Collage Kids to design a marvelous work of art. Ask for help to import pictures from your photo library and then you are ready to create an amazing collage. Whatever artistic route you choose, be sure to share your finished product with someone special.

Dual Language:

In Mango, Abula, and Me, Mia looks for clever ways to help Abuela learn English so they can better communicate. Of course, in the process, Mia learns some Spanish too! One idea Mia has is to label objects in the house with vocabulary flashcards. In like fashion, select five items in your home you routinely see and write each one in English on a card. Use to learn the word in a second language and then write it on the corresponding card and place it on the object. For example, if you select Spanish as the second language and “bathtub” as one of the objects, write “bathtub” and “bañera” on a card and place it beside the bathtub. Set a goal of five new vocabulary words a month and by the end of a year, you will know 60 new words. Contextualizing the vocabulary by placing the flashcards with the objects you frequently see will enable you to be a dual-language user in no time!